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Marked Ones brings fresh humour, but misses the mark

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones focuses on a witch or bruja.

2 out of 4 stars

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Written by
Christopher Landon
Directed by
Christopher Landon
Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh

Although Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is the fifth film in the low-budget, lucrative Paranormal Activity horror series, it is not to be confused with Paranormal Activity 5: That blessed event won't occur until October of this year. Instead, this entry has been described as a "cousin" to the other movies. Specifically, The Marked Ones is a Hispanic cousin, customized for Latino audiences in the United States where the series is particularly popular.

The Marked Ones is directed by Christopher Landon (son of actor Michael Landon) who wrote all the Paranormal Activity movies after its debut. The Marked Ones brings some fresh humour and a working-class milieu, and at slightly more than 80 minutes, doesn't overstay its welcome. On the minus side, this is a step down in filmmaking innovation, dropping the static security-cam aesthetic for a sloppy shaky-cam approach, choppily edited to resemble a series of YouTube uploads.

The immigrant aspiration message is captured in the opening scene – graduation day in a Los Angeles suburban Latino community. Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), gets a video camera for a present. He spends the summer hanging with his friend, Hector (Jorge Diaz, the likeable breakout star here), and Jesse's sister, Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh), hitting the parties, getting chased by gangbangers and trying to spy on their neighbours with the new camera.

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One of the neighbours is an ill-tempered middle-aged woman, Anna (Gloria Sandoval) living in an apartment in the complex, who everyone calls a "bruja" (witch), which, judging by Jesse and Hector's spying, seems to be accurate. One night, Anna gets murdered, apparently by the clean-cut class valedictorian, Oscar (Carlos Pratts), who the boys film running from the crime scene. Later, Jesse and Hector sneak into the dead woman's creepy apartment with its surgical instruments, inexplicable nursery, and a collection of old VHS tapes. After Jesse wakes up with a bite mark on his arm and the chihuahua starts to freak out, everyone starts to worry. Jesse's grandmother heads to the local Santeria priest for some advice. Later, the teens consult their own occult expert, a pretty young woman (Molly Ephraim from Paranormal Activity 2) who provides them with lots of witch coven back story and a warning that Jesse's soul is in dire danger. Since there's no point in calling the police ("They'd never believe us"), the kids take matters into their own hands.

The movie has a final 15 minutes of jolt scares that, while nominally tie into the series' overall mythology, suggest the producers were determined to burn their minimal special effects budget in a hurry.

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